By Simon Kennedy, MarketWatch
LONDON (MarketWatch) â" U.S. stock futures held in a tight range Thursday as investors awaited the latest data on jobless claims and consumer prices and as European markets also struggled for direction.
Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/comstock/21b!f:dj\h11 (DJH11 12,245, -7.00, -0.06%) Â were down 4 points at 12,248 and S&P 500 futures /quotes/comstock/21m!f:sp\h11 (SPH11 1,329, -3.70, -0.28%) Â fell 1.50 points to 1,331.50.
Nasdaq 100 futures /quotes/comstock/21m!f:nd\h11 (NDH11 2,388, -4.00, -0.17%) Â dropped 2 points to 2,390.
MARKETS HUB: S&P 500 close to doubling 2009 low
The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index is close to doubling its level from the March 2009 low, boosted on Wednesday by earnings and economic data.
U.S. markets rose on Wednesday after Federal Reserve officials lifted their forecast for economic growth in 2011 to a range of 3.4% to 3.9%, from the previous forecast range of 3% to 3.6%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/comstock/10w!i:dji/delayed (DJIA 12,288, +61.53, +0.50%) Â closed up nearly 62 points.
Inflation data will once again be in the spotlight Thursday with the 8:30 a.m. Eastern time release of Januaryâs consumer price index. Analysts expect the figures to show a 0.3% gain in headline consumer prices and a 0.1% rise in the core rate. See Economic Preview.
At the same time, weekly figures on jobless claims are expected to edge back up to 400,000 from 383,000 a week earlier.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia will release its February business activity survey after markets open.
âThe weekly jobless numbers have been rather volatile of recent with the U.S. suffering severe weather disruptions as well, so as things settle down we should get a better idea of whether the jobs market is improving,â said Simon Denham, head of Capital Spreads, in an email.
He added the consensus forecast is for Thursdayâs number to come in a little below the four-week average of 416,000.
The dollar held steady ahead of the data. The euro was down 0.1% at $1.3564 and the greenback was virtually flat against the yen at Â¥83.591.
Shares of data-storage technology company NetApp Inc. /quotes/comstock/15*!ntap/quotes/nls/ntap (NTAP 58.54, +0.10, +0.17%) Â dropped nearly 8% in premarket trading after its fourth-quarter earnings forecast disappointed investors. Read more on NetApp's results.
Technology giant Apple Inc. /quotes/comstock/15*!aapl/quotes/nls/aapl (AAPL 363.13, +3.23, +0.90%) Â slipped 1.8% in premarket trading, giving back some of the 13% rise the stock has achieved since the start of the year. Several online media outlets reported that Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs has been seen at a cancer center in California.
Shares of chip maker Nvidia Corp. /quotes/comstock/15*!nvda/quotes/nls/nvda (NVDA 23.38, +0.83, +3.68%) Â fell 3.1% in premarket trade after it reported fourth-quarter results late Wednesday.
Shares in natural-gas group Williams Cos. /quotes/comstock/13*!wmb/quotes/nls/wmb (WMB 27.76, +0.73, +2.70%) , on the other hand, are expected to surge after the groupâs board approved a plan to spin off its exploration and production business.
Other stocks that are likely to see active trading Thursday include Apache Corp. /quotes/comstock/13*!apa/quotes/nls/apa (APA 120.51, +1.17, +0.98%) , which is expected to report earnings of $2.46 a share in the latest quarter, and PG&E Corp. /quotes/comstock/13*!pcg/quotes/nls/pcg (PCG 46.00, -0.21, -0.45%) , which is seen reporting a profit of 72 cents a share.
European stock markets were broadly flat in late morning trading after a mixed set of earnings results from the likes of Pernod Ricard SA /quotes/comstock/24s!e:ri (FR:RI 67.72, -2.91, -4.12%) , BAE Systems PLC /quotes/comstock/23s!a:ba. (UK:BA. 339.20, -16.50, -4.64%) Â and Nestle SA /quotes/comstock/06p!nesn (CH:NESN 53.10, +0.65, +1.24%) Â /quotes/comstock/11i!nsrgy (NSRGY 54.72, 0.00, 0.00%) /quotes/comstock/11i!nsrgy (NSRGY 54.72, 0.00, 0.00%)
The French CAC 40 index /quotes/comstock/30t!i:px1 (FR:PX1 4,143, -7.80, -0.19%) Â slipped less than 0.1% to 4,149.90.
Most Asian markets ended the day with small gains. Tokyoâs Nikkei 225 Average closed up 0.3%.
Simon Kennedy is the City correspondent for MarketWatch in London.Powered By iWebRSS.com